In a world full of multi-purpose wearables, can one-trick-ponies like Fitbit survive?

fitbit relevance smartwatch market 37244964 l
Geoff Goldswain/123RF
Fitbit –a pioneer in the world of wearables– has developed a rather cult-like following. Its products are simple and easy-to-use, and answer a desire among a significant number of consumers to stay on top of their fitness goals by keeping them moving. But can the company thrive in an increasingly competitive wearables market?

The answer is still unclear. The company does sell Fitbits hand over foot –21.3 million in 2015 alone, twice what it sold the year before– but repeat customers are hard to come by. It admits that nearly three in ten users stop using their Fitbit within a year, which puts a strain on the company to lure in new customers on a consistent basis.

It also faces strong competition from companies like Apple, whose smartwatch can do what Fitbit does and a whole lot more. This problem was well illustrated at CES 2016, where the company’s newest $200 fitness tracker –the Blaze– made its debut.

While Fitbit had high hopes for the device, those who had a chance to play with it (and the stock market) had another. The Blaze lacked attractive features like the GPS functionality of the Surge, and while looking like a smartwatch, it did little more than any other Fitbit. The stock quickly fell in the week following the show, and is now down 43 percent since the beginning of the year, even though the company has shipped about one million units of its latest device as of the beginning of last month.

Park: Apple’s doing it wrong

To the company’s credit, its CEO James Park remains defiant. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Park lamented the response to the Blaze, but didn’t suggest the company plans to do anything different anytime soon.

“We look at it from a consumer point of view,” Park said, arguing Apple approaches the smartwatch as a computing platform and “that’s really the wrong way to approach this category from the very beginning.” He says the plan was always to start simple and then expand the capabilities in later versions.

Digital Trends attempted to get some clarification on what Park considers the “right way” forward for wearables, but Fitbit declined comment. Based on recent history and comments from several wearable tech analysts, it’s not clear whether Park’s position is a smart idea, however.

Over the years, we’ve seen many companies try to focus on one thing while their competitors broaden their appeal. For example, Cisco’s Flip video cameras took great high-definition video, but smartphones did it just as well, if not better, in a much smaller size. Even eBooks and DVD players — both successful single-purpose devices — are not immune to consumer’s affinity to do more with a single device.

A study from 2013 showed that four in 10 e-reader owners and a quarter of DVD player owners used those respective devices less once they bought a tablet, which further drives home the point.

Analysts are no more kind to the future for Fitbit, or other devices that follow a similar strategy. “The market for single purpose devices is heading toward zero and there is nothing Fitbit can do to reverse the trend,” Global Securities Research analyst Trip Chowdry told clients in a February research note. “Fitbit has zero developer ecosystem, has zero AppStore and hence it has zero sustainability power.”

Baby steps into the smartwatch

Whether or not Park or his team at Fitbit listens is another story. While he told The New York Times that he did see high-end Fitbits eventually doing more than just tracking user’s steps, heart rate, and sleep, these devices likely will never be as full-featured as other smartwatches.

“I think one of the general knocks against smartwatches is that people still don’t know what they’re good for, so they’ve crammed everything in,” he argued.

To some extent, analysts we talked to agree. Gartner wearables analyst Angela McIntyre says she considers the Fitbit Blaze to be more of a sports watch rather than a smartwatch, and cautioned against trying to apply the single-purpose versus multipurpose argument to wearables in general.

“There is room for both, and it really depends on the usage case” as to whether or not it really matters, she told us in a Thursday interview. Regardless of the success of Fitbit’s devices themselves, the real value in the long-term might be the data that Fitbits collect from the hordes of people who wear them every day.

McIntyre pointed to the company’s work with health care providers, who might find it useful to track various health metrics to provide proactive care for example.”The data is an incredible growth opportunity,” she argued. “It could be beneficial for people who have specific diseases or health conditions.” Other analysts pointed to the data collected as well, with Forrester calling it a “gold mine.”

In other words? Despite the flack Fitbit’s getting in the press, in the end, everything will be just fine.

Emerging Tech

Desk lamps take on a new task by converting their light to power

What if we could charge devices using light from indoor sources like desk lamps? A group of scientists working on a technology called organic photovoltaics (OPVs) aim to do just that.
Mobile

Rooting your Android device is risky. Do it right with our handy guide

Wondering whether to root your Android smartphone or stick with stock Android? Perhaps you’ve decided to do it and you just need to know how? Here, you'll find an explanation and a quick guide on how to root Android devices.
Computing

Sending SMS messages from your PC is easier than you might think

Texting is a fact of life, but what to do when you're in the middle of something on your laptop or just don't have your phone handy? Here's how to send a text message from a computer, whether you prefer to use an email client or Windows 10.
Mobile

Free yourself! How to unlock a phone from the icy hands of your wireless carrier

Do you want to know how to unlock a phone through your carrier or a third-party service like DoctorSIM? Regardless of which way you want to go, we've compiled a list of requirements and methods for doing so.
Wearables

Garmin Marq series offers stylish performance for those willing to pay for it

Garmin had been around for 30-years and is celebrating its anniversary with a big announcement: The Marq, a new series of premium adventure smartwatches designed for consumers who want stylish performance and are willing to pay for it.
Wearables

These are the best smartwatches for everything from fashion to fitness

Tempted to buy a smartwatch? If so, then the growing number of great models available means you've got plenty to choose from. But which one should you pick? Here is our list of the best smartwatches.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Mobile

Even older Apple Watches could be effective at spotting heart conditions

The Apple Watch Series 4 is known for detecting heart conditions like atrial fibrillation thanks to having an electrocardiograph feature. It turns out that older Apple Watches could be effective at tracking AFib, too.
Deals

It’s time to check out the best Apple Watch deals for March 2019

The Apple Watch has surged to prominence in recent years. If you're in the market for an iOS wearable, we've sniffed out the best Apple Watch deals available right now for all three models of this great smartwatch.
Home Theater

Here are some common AirPods problems, and how to fix them

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.
Wearables

Spring is here, and Apple’s beautiful new Watch bands will help you celebrate

Apple knows that seasons matter in the fashion world, and has refreshed its most popular Apple Watch bands to celebrate the arrival of spring. See them all, including our new favorite teal versions, here.
Wearables

Fitbit Versa Lite tips and tricks to get started with your new smartwatch

Got your hands on a Fitbit Versa Lite? The smartwatch may be the pared down version of the more expensive Fitbit Versa, but there's still plenty for you to tweak in the settings. Here are our Fitbit Versa Lite tips and tricks.
Wearables

Garmin adds a splash of spring color to its Instinct hiking smartwatches

Just in time for the spring season, Garmin is refreshing its Instinct GPS smartwatch with a fresh coat of paint that brings three new colors to this outdoors-focused watch that debuted last fall.
Mobile

Apple patent suggests Apple Watch bands could have built-in fitness indicators

Apple may be exploring ways to make Apple Watch bands a little more useful. A new patent has been filed by Apple that suggests Apple Watch bands could eventually have indicators for things like fitness goals.